Marc Brandl, [email protected]In the land of legal prostitution and gambling, people arrested for small quantities of marijuana are often shocked to learn they will be charged with a felony and face jail time. A bill in the Nevada legislature would lessen those penalties. If A.B. 577 becomes law, first time offenders caught with less than an ounce of marijuana will face a fine of no more than $500 dollars. Repeat offenders would be fined as much as $1000 dollars and pay additional fees levied by the local county to cover the cost of a referral to a drug court or rehabilitation program.
According to Assemblywoman Chris Guinchigliani (D-Las Vegas), the bill's sponsor, a change in the law is necessary because "the war on drugs, especially in the area of marijuana, hasn't worked." She said the resources needed to prosecute low level drug offenders should be put to better use. "My real motivation for this is to try to get some additional revenue for rehabilitation," she said. "I think that should be our focus, especially when it's an ounce or less of marijuana. We need to stop putting people in prison for an alcohol or drug problem -- we are destroying too many lives."
As of press time, the bill is being considered on the Assembly floor after receiving bi-partisan approval from the judiciary committee last week. The Nevada Assembly has a large Democratic majority, but the bill may not get a warm welcome in the state Senate. "The Senate has a vocal conservative majority," said Dan Geary, a Carson City lobbyist. "Nevada is very much a law and order state." But, he added, "I think the legislature may be surprised to find widespread support for making the possession of marijuana a misdemeanor, while remaining very much in favor of stronger penalties for sellers."
The text of the bill can be found online at http://www.leg.state.nv.us/70th/bills/AB/AB577.html.